Saturday, June 27, 2015

Some Ed Wood fan art: Duke Moore in 'Night of the Ghouls'

Some rare Duke Moore fan art.

Originally, I had planned to do more original fan artwork to accompany my Ed Wood Wednesdays pieces, but it never panned out that way. I do, however, have this one attempt at a moody, black-and-white portrait of Duke Moore as he appeared in Final Curtain and Night of the Ghouls. It's the same footage in both movies, so you can decide whether this is Curtain Moore or Ghouls Moore. There's just something about Moore I like, and I tried to capture that here. Enjoy.

Ed Wood extra! 'Chiller Theatre' (1965) and 'Oh! Those Bells' (1962)

Vampira and Dr. Tom Mason in the intro for WPIX's legendary Chiller Theatre.

If you don't mind, I'd like to share with you some Ed Wood-related TV treasures from the early 1960s. The first dates back to 1965 -- a half-century ago. While poor Eddie was toiling on Orgy of the Dead, clips of his Plan 9 from Outer Space featuring Vampira and Dr. Tom Mason were being used in the opening montage of the legendary Chiller Theatre on New York's Channel 11 WPIX, an independent station, along with snippets from The Cyclops and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. WPIX had been running horror movies under the Chiller Theatre banner since 1961, but the Wood-centric opening did not turn up until 1965, coinciding with the departure of host Zacherly "The Cool Ghoul." WPIX had a strong signal and was well-known in those days to viewers throughout the so-called "tri-state area," encompassing New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. It is conceivable, then, that Chiller Theater had a major impact on the baby boomers who grew up in that area of the country, introducing them to the joys and terrors of horror films. The Saturday night show might have scarred some kids for life.

One such victim/beneficiary was New Jersey-born writer Rob Craig, who grew up to be the author of the exhaustive study Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Look at the Films. In an extensive interview included in the newly-published The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood, Craig talks at great length about the Chiller Theatre intro and the impact it had on his life. He began watching the WPIX show when he was eight years old and became entranced with it. "Like any self-respecting baby boomer," he said, "I was completely enamored of monster movies." The Chiller Theatre intro became such an object of fascination for Craig that, fifty years later, he could easily rattle off all the movies quoted within it. But one particular excerpt stood out among the rest, as Craig explained to the Cinematic Misadventures authors:
"However, the one clip which really resonated with me -- and which I would not identify for many years -- was a very strange scene showing a sexy young woman with a tight black dress, long black hair, heavy makeup, and long dark fingernails. This sexy/creepy monster woman was walking towards the camera in a menacing way, with a deranged grimace on her face. Now, to an eight-year-old monster movie buff -- it may sound funny to say now -- but I found that clip extremely creepy. The woman's grimace indicated some sort of madness or evil which really unnerved me. It was an interesting combination, I think, of sex and horror."
You can probably guess the rest of the story: Rob Craig finally saw Plan 9 from Outer Space years later and had an epiphany when he finally recognized the mystery woman who had been haunting his dreams since childhood. Watching the intro, which was retired in the late 1960s, I can definitely see why the WPIX show affected Craig so strongly. The Plan 9 clips are right at the beginning of the montage -- unmissable, unmistakable. Removed from its original context, the footage is genuinely unsettling and provocative all at once. It's darker and grainier than the current DVD version, which makes it a little more sinister. Furthermore, WPIX has added its own bombastic library music to the montage, underlining the sense of dread. Perhaps most importantly, the Plan 9 footage only lasts three seconds. A shot of Vampira standing still in the graveyard. A shot of Tom Mason standing still in (apparently) the same graveyard. Then back to Vampira, who approaches the camera with her arms out in front, as if she's reaching for the viewer directly through the TV screen. There's no time to process any of this. It's almost subliminal. Did I just see that? Here, more so than in the full-length movie, the ersatz Dracula is as scary as the real thing. It really helps when you don't get a good look at him. And Vampira is sex and death made flesh, Eros and Thanatos in one body. The viewer is simultaneously attracted and repelled. I want to fuck her! She's going to kill me! So many conflicting thoughts, so little time.



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 62: 'Swedish Erotica' (ca. 1973)

Standard logo for the Swedish Erotica loops of the 1970s.

Jinny: Would you like a beer? 
     Howie: I'd like something else. 
Jinny: Now what in the world could that be? 
     Howie: I'll show you. 
-subtitled dialogue from "The Virgin Next Door (Part One)"

Hindenburg over the Hudson: Early inspiration for Ed.
There's a common element you'll find in seemingly every biography of a famous filmmaker born in the 20th century, from Grade-Z schlockmeisters on up to Hollywood royalty: the story of getting that all-important first home movie camera. From those old, hand-wound 8mm jobs right up through VHS camcorders, the story is always pretty much the same. A kid would get ahold of one of those magical devices, and synapses would start firing in his brain. He'd get ideas, man. "That could be my movie playing at the local bijou," he'd think. And pretty soon, he'd start rounding up the neighborhood kids to start acting in his little pint-sized Westerns and war pictures, shot on location in the backyard. In his book The Big Lebowski: The Making of a Coen Brothers Film, writer William Preston Robertson devotes several amusing pages to documenting the early filmmaking experiments of Joel and Ethan Coen, siblings who grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis in the late 1960s. Joel, the elder Coen, decided that he and his brother should mow lawns and use the proceeds to buy a Super 8mm home movie camera and film stock. Eventually, the plan succeeded, and the Coen boys did actually purchase a Vivitar camera and some film. The historic purchase did not immediately yield cinematic greatness, as Robertson details:
"Their earliest explorations were, to be sure, uninspired, if not disgracefully lazy. Setting the movie camera up in front of the television, they simply let it run -- filming, at least in part, a Raymond Burr jungle movie. It was an act of artistic lethargy that shamed even the boys, and they soon carted the Vivitar outdoors to see what might be worth filming there."
Eventually, the Coen boys did become more ambitious with their Super 8 extravaganzas, especially once they'd found a neighborhood star their own age, one Mark "Zeimers" Zimering (later an endocrinologist in East Orange, NJ), and crafted around him such homemade epics as Zeimers in Zambia and the serendipitously-titled Ed... A Dog, their surreal update of 1943's Lassie Come Home. This era of the brothers' lives culminated in what Robertson deems their "pinnacle": a surrealist mini-epic entitled The Banana Film.

A Kodak ad from 1934.
Though he started nearly four decades previously and half a country away, Ed Wood's "origin story" was not too different from that of the Coens, minus the dogs and bananas. Edward Davis Wood, Jr.'s earliest films in his native Poughkeepsie were just as humble as what young Joel and Ethan were doing in the suburbs of Minneapolis. In one of those fortune-shifting accidents of history, Ed Wood happened to be born during an era when affordable home movie cameras were first being made widely available to the general public. Though little Eddie did hold down several jobs in his hometown as a youth, the fateful movie camera which changed his life -- ultimately for the worse, it sadly seems -- was a gift from his postal worker father. In his 1994 Ed Wood-based musical, The Worst!, singer-songwriter Josh Alan Freeman attributes the cinematic gift to Ed's mother Lilian instead. The camera and young Eddie's obsession with it form the basis for a plaintive song called "Kodak City Special." Sample lyrics: "Look at me, Ma! I've got a camera! What in the world have you given your son? Let us pray!" A couple of interviewees in Rudy Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy speak with a certain amount of knowledge about Eddie's primordial work. A witness named Fred Robertson, seemingly a friend of Ed's father and quoted nowhere else in the book, makes a tantalizing statement:
"Years ago I had some of Ed Jr.'s films, 100 foot, 16mm, that he took himself. Scenes of him playing G-man with cap pistols, black and white, the typical thing that a kid would have taken -- a couple of guys playing cops and robbers, just clowning around, about four minutes."
Meanwhile, Kathy Wood, Ed's wife of twenty-plus years and perhaps the person who knew this unknowable man best, shared the following info with Grey:
"His dad bought him this movie camera ... and the Hindenburg was coming down the Hudson, on the course where it crashed in New Jersey and went up in flames ... and Eddie filmed it, he said it was thrilling, exciting, he was so proud that he shot it before it crashed. He was always so proud of that. [...] Ed would stage plays in his backyard, all the neighborhood kids would join in, he would stage them, write little stories and then film them. He was always filming things ... and that's all he wanted to do from the time he was four or five. He'd run around taking pictures. That's all he wanted to do."
Kathy's account gives you some insight into the life and mind of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Simply put, the boy was camera-crazy. He never got over that gift from his dad. It must have seemed like magic. But he was hardly unique in that respect. Like I said before, the "my first camera" story is one I've encountered in lots of biographies of directors. I doubt, though, that such tales will crop up in the life stories of future filmmakers, who won't actually be using film in their endeavors. In the age of YouTube and the iPhone, the humble yet all-important camera has lost its mystique. So, too, has the moving image, I'm afraid. It's now a magic trick any idiot with a smartphone can accomplish.

I'm dredging all this up because, this week, we are discussing perhaps Eddie's least-prestigious work: the pornographic, hardcore loops he made in the early 1970s. By this point in his life, Ed was making his extremely meager living from a typewriter, not a camera. His only steady, reliable source of income during those dark years was Bernie Bloom at Pendulum Publishing, for whom Ed wrote novels, short stories, non-fiction articles, all manner of pseudo sex manuals and tawdry textbooks. Kathy Wood was fine with this arrangement. Money's money, after all. But Eddie couldn't deny his first love, cinema, and was determined to stay in the motion picture game in any way he possibly could, no matter how lowly the assignment.

That's a constant theme throughout Eddie's thirty-year tenure in Los Angeles, actually. When he couldn't get a feature film going, he'd do what he considered "the next best thing" or "the next best thing to the next best thing," be it commercials for Wesson Oil and Pyequick, unsuccessful Western and horror pilots, bone-dry industrial films for Autonetics Aviation, local TV programs like Criswell Presents and The Sam Yorty Show, and even sports shows -- the latter despite Ed's seeming lack of interest in athletics. Anything that would keep him behind a camera. As Ed Wood worked his way down the Hollywood ladder, from horror and sci-fi to to nudie cuties to outright porn, the "next best thing" gigs he took between pictures also declined in prestige.

Which thus brings us to...

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I'm not so sure I love this Lucy

"Do you pop out at parties?" Clearly, the answer is yes.

I have already expressed my love of wax museums in general and really bad wax museums in particular. I wish sometimes I could work in such an establishment, though it's probably less glamorous than I'm imagining. Well, in my Internet travels, I recently encountered this grotesque approximation of Lucille Ball from the famed Hollywood Wax Museum, one of the great tourist traps in LA. Like the infamous bronze statue of Ms. Ball in Celoron, NY this paraffin effigy is based on the indelible I Love Lucy episode called "Lucy Does a TV Commercial," better known as "Vitameatavegimin." What is it about that episode which so stymies artists? They can't come close to capturing it. While the bronze statue looks like the Golem of Judaic folklore, the wax figure resembles a crazed, possibly murderous Reba McEntire. Why is Lucille Ball so hard to capture? Anyway, for comparison's sake, below is a picture of the infamous statue, juxtaposed with a photo of the real Lucille Ball.

Well, the artist got some details right. Lucy did wear a necklace in the episode.

What is the deal with Father's Day cards? Am I right, people?

Today, there would be sarcastic quotes around the "dear" part.

NOTE: This is a, um, "golden classic" from the vast Dead 2 Rights archives. In other words, it's a rerun from 2011. But since it's Father's Day, I figured I'd try to get some extra mileage out of it. The sentiments it expresses are as true today as they were four years ago.

If you wish to meditate upon our society's ambiguous and sometimes troubling attitudes towards fatherhood, you have an EXCITING opportunity to do so this weekend! Yep, just truck on down to your local grocery store, card shop, or pharmacy and spend some time browsing through their selection of Father's Day cards. Prepare to be astonished and possibly horrified by what you find. Now, of course, you can always go the sappy, sentimental route or the religious route. That's true of virtually every holiday or major observance. But if you want to go the "lightly humorous" route, Father's Day offers its own unique challenges. I'm sure I was not the only person who spent many minutes trying to find a card that I would not be completely mortified to send to my father and have him actually read. The card I wound up choosing this year had the following legend on its cover:
You Made Me the Person I Am Today! 
And on the inside, it read:
How Can You Sleep at Night? 
Followed, of course, by the cheerful tagline:
Happy Father's Day!
In retrospect, this seemingly-innocent little witticism is actually quite barbed and nasty. The implication is, "I am a neurotic and messed-up adult, Dad, and I blame you entirely. I am baffled by the fact that you can sleep while in possession of this horrible knowledge. Any creature capable of emotion would be tortured to the point of sleeplessness over this, but you apparently are a bloodless and unfeeling monster. Still in all, I hope you enjoy this holiday dedicated to you and your tyrranical kind." Kind of harsh, right? But believe me, it was the best one I could find. To peruse the Father's Day cards at the local store is to navigate an emotional minefield, I tell you.

The basic themes of "humorous" Father's Day cards are these:
  1. Dad, you are an alcoholic who cherishes beer more than your own children.
  2. You are a repellent and disgusting troll whose primary modes of self-expression are belching and flatulence.
  3. You are also a perverted old lecher who lusts after younger women.
  4. You use golf, television, and home improvement projects as excuses for avoiding contact with your own family.
  5. At home, you are merely a useless figurehead who serves no real purpose. Knowing this, you choose to spend your time parked in a recliner in front of the television.
  6. Your true importance to the family unit is as a provider of income. Money and work define you. In fact, I would like to use this very card as an opportunity to borrow money from you.
It's a pretty bleak picture, I know. But that's the basic message I get from Father's Day cards. I'm not the only one who's picked up on this. Here's a 2008 article from the Grand Rapids Press on the very same topic. I think the underlying issue with these cards is that we really do have an ambiguous attitude towards fatherhood in this country. The post-Industrial-Revolution male has no well-defined role within his own home. Women are still expected to be the ones who do the actual day-to-day raising of children. Maybe as traditional gender roles break down and new paradigms for family life are established, the public's nebulous opinion of this thing called "fatherhood" will evolve. For a check-up on how we're doing as a society on this matter, I'd suggest keeping an eye on the greeting card department!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Let us ponder the riddle that is Orson Bean

Orson Bean admits to having eaten the baloney.

Orson Bean on Match Game.
Orson Bean. It's very possible that this name will mean little to you, dear reader, especially if you're under 40. You cinephiles out there may remember him as dotty old Dr. Lester, the lecherous, carrot-juice-drinking boss from 1999's Being John Malkovich. ("My spunk is to you manna from heaven.") He was also the voice of Bilbo Baggins in the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit. Connoisseurs of TV reruns may recall him from his appearances on The Twilight Zone, The Love Boat, or The Facts of Life. He did 146 episodes of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman back in the '90s, too, if that's what you're into. (Hey, there's no shame in it. My sister loved that show.) If you were lucky enough to have the Game Show Network back when they showed many of the old panel-style game shows from the 1960s and 1970s, Orson Bean should be a familiar face to you. He logged countless appearances on Match Game, To Tell the Truth, What's My Line, and more. In fact, I think of Orson Bean as a sterling example of a now-dying breed: the all-purpose professional celebrity with no particular specialty. Bean was an actor of stage and screen, of course, as well as a comedian and author, but his real claim to fame was as a "personality." Need a familiar face for your talk or game show? Just call Orson! He possessed numerous traits that made him ideal for television: an impish sense of humor, a vast storehouse of jokes and stories, a winning smile, impeccable diction, and a flair for accents and dialects. The man was born to talk into a microphone.

The Orson Bean discography.
Speaking of which: Like most stand-up comics of his generation, Orson Bean put his act down on wax a couple of times for posterity. He released At the Hungry I, recorded at the legendarily-hip San Francisco nightclub, in 1959. A decade later, however, Orson released the album that concerns us today: a collection of songs, poems, and "street jokes" entitled I Ate the Baloney. I first heard the title track, an irreverent religious-themed anecdote set to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel," on The Dr. Demento Show in the 1990s. Just this year, I found the entire LP had been uploaded to Archive.org. For reasons I cannot adequately explain to you, I have listened to I Ate the Baloney in its entirety at least 20 times in the last few months, almost becoming able to lip sync the jokes as Bean tells them. I just like the sound of his practiced voice, especially when he slips into an Irish brogue. There's a vaudevillian old-fashionedness to the entire affair I find comforting and satisfying.

Since this LP comes to us from the 1960s, Bean can still openly acknowledge ethnicity in ways that would draw tremendous fire today. Take a conceptual bit called "The American Restaurant," in which Bean affects a broad, almost caroonish Chinese accent. One might be tempted to call the bit racist because of this, but in fact, Bean is poking fun at racism and stereotypes in a clever, insightful, and even subversive fashion. The Chinese characters in Bean's story talk about Americans in the bigoted, reductive way we Americans too often talk about the Chinese. It's a classic role reversal, as when the speaker ponders an infamous urban legend about sex. "Not look now," the man says to his giggling buddies. "American girl sit a-next table. Ooh, that's a nice lookin' girl! Built like a bamboo house! I don't know... American girl... I always wonder. I don't think so either. That's old Army story!"

But the track from I Ate the Baloney which has really captured my attention has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity. Instead, it's a brief bit of comedic doggerel about the plight of an urban commuter. The poem describes a man's experience aboard the IRT, which is what New Yorkers used to call the subway because it was run by a private operator called the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. I don't have much experience with the IRT, not being a New Yorker, but I do commute by train to and from work each day and can thus sympathize with the hero of Bean's poem. Some of the humor and pathos come from Bean's performance, but I think the words are worthy of study, too. In that spirit, the entire text of the poem is included below:

                         Last week, I'm ridin' in the IRT,
                        And this poor slob is sittin' right across from me.
                        So he's sittin' in the subway, kinda slumped in his seat,
                        Like a tired old dog, so dead, so beat.
                        His clothes, his face, everything looks sad,
                        And I'm thinking what a rotten life he must've had.
                        So I look in his face, and what do I see?
                        He looks like he's feelin' sorry for me!
                        But you don't know the IRT!
                        The windows are filthy. The lights are dim.
                        It was my own reflection, and I am him!

On the LP, this actually leads into entire bit about whiskey ads on the New York subways.  But I will leave that one for you to discover on your own. Bean is so convincing in delivering this particular hard-luck story that he elicited actual sympathy from the audience. Periodically throughout the recording, you can hear a tender-hearted woman in the audience say, "Awwww." Incidentally, Orson Bean is still alive at the age of 86, thanks to all that carrot juice. He worked as recently as 2014 in a parody of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman entitled Dr. Quinn, Morphine Woman. More intriguingly, back in 2008, he recorded a delightful little 10-part series of YouTube videos called "The Art of Joke Telling." Here is possibly my favorite of the ten:



Incidentally, that patch on Orson's shirt commemorates the Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille in New London, NH. Sounds like a nice place.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A thumb-sucking article about the whole Rachel Dolezal mess

Rachel Dolezal giving a speech and pretending to be black.

You all know the story. If you're reading this, it means you have a functioning Internet connection, so you could not possibly have missed it. Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, has been "outed" as white by her baffled biological parents. Apparently, by altering her hair texture and skin color, Ms. Dolezal has been falsely but successfully presenting herself as African-American for years. Now, the truth has come out, and the Internet is up in arms about it. Wherever you go on social media, there is Rachel Dolezal's face, usually accompanied by scolding editorials. Time and again, we see side-by-side photographs which document Ms. Dolezal's shocking metamorphosis from fair-haired, pale-skinned little girl to kinky-coiffed, mocha-complected woman. And then, of course, the questions arise. Why? How? A quick search on Google Trends shows that the previously-obscure term "transracial," which had been seriously waning after peaking in popularity in April 2005, has shot up to unprecedented heights in June 2015. This must be attributable to the Dolezal story. Currently, Ms. Dolezal is being pilloried from one end of the web to the other, from Twitter to BuzzFeed to the Huffington Post.

While I do not endorse Rachel Dolezal's actions, I do think it's worthwhile to pause during this Internet feeding frenzy and ask ourselves a few basic questions. Had you even heard of Rachel Dolezal a week ago? Have her actions directly harmed you or someone you know? Has the Rachel Dolezal story shaken you to your core? Are you truly, in your heart of hearts, outraged by what this woman has done? If you answered any of these questions with "Nah, not really," it might be time to cut Ms. Dolezal some slack. I think this story is less about race and more about our desire to feel better about ourselves by shaming the shit out of someone we don't know. As modern media consumers, we're all like bloodthirsty lions with insatiable appetites. We need a continual supply of fresh meat to keep us satisfied: hippos, antelopes, giraffes, baby elephants, you name it. In that context, Rachel Dolezal isn't a person; she's a buffet. Dig in, everybody! Plenty to go around!

I'm sure you've said and done stupid things, too. My own life is a never-ending blooper reel. The difference is, I'm not famous or important, so the rest of the world didn't really care. But, still, that doesn't change the fact that I did these stupid things. I'll own up to being a moron. Won't you? So before you read -- or perhaps even write -- the latest "Rachel Dolezal is worse than Hitler" article, remember that stupidity is the bond between us all. We are all brothers and sisters under the dunce cap.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Greatest deleted scene of all time? Or just my personal favorite?

"Before you went insane": Parker Posey in Waiting For Guffman.

"A workman is known by his chips and a tailor by his scraps."
-Supposedly an old French proverb

Bruno Kirby in a deleted scene from Spinal Tap.
Deleted scenes are like those little toys you get for the cost of pocket change from vending machines at grocery stores. You know, the ones that come in little plastic bubbles. They're a dicey-at-best proposition. You can't choose what you get; you just put your coins in the slot, turn the little handle, wait for your toy to tumble out of the chute, and hope for the best. So you can't expect much from them. Most likely, they'll be worthless. But sometimes, man... sometimes they're the best damned thing ever. Lemme give you a case in point. If all you've ever seen of This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is the movie itself, well, you've still seen a seminal motion picture which continues to cast a long shadow over film, television, and Internet comedy to this day. So congratulations on doing that. But Tap aficionados know that much more was filmed for that project than could ever fit into a single, 85-minute movie.

Famously, the actors in This Is Spinal Tap, many from the world of improvisational comedy, were working not from a script but rather from a vague outline and thus had a free hand in ad libbing scenes and dialogue along the way. Director Rob Reiner just kept his cameras rolling the whole time. His first assemblage of footage, the fabled "workprint," was four and a half hours long, and that was without the one-on-one interviews which were interspersed throughout the final version. To get Spinal Tap down to a manageable length, a fearsome amount of material -- much of it great -- landed on the cutting room floor. Whole subplots were axed. Characters vanished. Pivotal, revealing moments vaporized. Today, who knows? Reiner might've pulled a Peter Jackson and spread this shit out over multiple movies. We would have gotten This Is Spinal Tap, Book Two: The Desolation of Artie Fufkin. As it happened, the excised moments from Tap have trickled out over the years via laserdisc, DVD, and BluRay releases of the film, while the epic "workprint" has long been a favorite on bootleg VHS tapes. Much of this material is well worth watching, and some of it is as good as or better than what wound up in the actual movie. I have a particular fondness for a scene in which Bruno Kirby's Sinatra-obsessed limo driver, having tried marijuana for the first time, strips down to his skivvies and sings "All the Way" before passing out in full view of the heavy metal musicians he's been driving around.

When Spinal Tap veteran Christopher Guest started making his own mockumentary-style comedies in 1996, he kept the template from the previous film. In the funny and poignant Waiting for Guffman, Guest's actors, again including a number of improv veterans, worked from an outline rather than a script. Like Rob Reiner before him, Chris Guest shot much more than he could ever include in one movie. So he crammed the really essential stuff into an hour and twenty-four minutes, nearly the same length as This Is Spinal Tap, and relegated the best of the rest to the "Deleted Scenes" section on the Guffman DVD. And there, my friends, is where you will find my candidate for the single greatest deleted scene of all time.

In Waiting For Guffman, Parker Posey plays Libby Mae Brown, an extremely laconic, dead-eyed, twentysomething Dairy Queen employee stuck in the bland Midwestern purgatory that is Blaine, Missouri. Libby's only true escape from ice cream-related drudgery is her active involvement in Blaine's community theater program, which has thrived in its own odd way under the leadership of flamboyant, closeted Broadway expatriate Corky St. Clair (played by Guest). On the stage, though somewhat stiff and self-conscious as an actress, Libby becomes much more outgoing and demonstrative than she is anywhere else in her life. As silly as Corky's plays may seem, they mean a lot to Libby and the other people involved in them. The plot of Guffman concerns the production of Red, White, and Blaine, a rah-rah original musical written by Corky to commemorate Blaine's 150th anniversary. Libby Mae is one of the aspiring thespians who wish to be in the show, and the famous deleted scene is the monologue she performs as her audition, which she performs in front of Corky St. Clair along with humorless music teacher Lloyd Miller (Bob Balaban) and a third, unidentified man whose purpose at the event is not immediately clear.



In the finished movie, Libby's audition consists of singing a flirtatious 1958 Doris Day song called "Teacher's Pet." ("Teacher's pet/I wanna be teacher's pet/I wanna be huddled and cuddled/As close to you as I can get.") The reaction of the judges is the same as to her monologue: Corky is utterly enchanted, Lloyd quietly disgusted, and the third man indifferent. Left on the cutting room floor, though, was Libby's brilliant, obviously Flowers in the Attic-inspired audition monologue, which might have taken Guffman in a darker, weirder direction than the director wanted to go, with its tasteless insinuations of incest, rape, and euthanasia. According to Christopher Guest, Parker Posey wrote this deranged soliloquy herself. It certainly gives the viewer new insight into the character of Libby Mae Brown, who in the rest of the film seems almost catatonic and whose speech frequently contains long, uncomfortable pauses as she chews her gum and slowly collects her thoughts. Part of the joy of the audition monologue is the opportunity to see both sides of Libby's personality: the ostentatious actress and the insecure, self-defeating young woman. Before delivering her monologue, Libby gives the panel of judges much more information than they need, and during the performance, she breaks character to give yet more unnecessary exposition.

Happily, though it didn't wind up in the final cut of Waiting for Guffman, Parker Posey's audition monologue has had a modest second life of its own, largely thanks to its popularity among young actresses. Perhaps in Libby Mae, they see a sister-in-arms. I found at least three YouTube "cover versions" of the monologue: here, here, and here. Meanwhile, in case you have any auditions coming up, WhySanity.net offers a full transcript here. And, of course, it's available -- with or without commentary -- on the Waiting for Guffman DVD.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Announcement regarding the future of Ed Wood Wednesdays (UPDATED)

Jeffrey Jones as Criswell in Ed Wood (1994).

"We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives." It was a line Criswell swiped from a 1953 Rock Hudson-Donna Reed flick called Gun Fury. (Rock's version went: "I'm interested only in the future, 'cause that's where we're going to spend the rest of our lives.") Cris recycled this fortune-cookie-ready adage throughout his career: in Plan 9 from Outer Space, on his 1970 album The Legendary Criswell Predicts Your Incredible Future, and even into latter-day personal appearances in his waning days. On the Plan 9 DVD commentary track, Ted Newsom recalls seeing the old faker at one such event and cringing when Criswell nearly forgot the second half of the famous sentence. (To Ted's relief, Cris eventually remembered his own catchphrase.) Though mocked by the Medved-inspired bad movie crowd, there's a certain forehead-slapping truth to those well-worn words. We really are going to send the rest of our lives in the future. Isn't that exciting? In fact, the dull, ordinary day you just had would probably be extraordinary in a thousand different ways to someone who lived a century ago.

Folks, I'll not beat around the bush. I'm here to discuss the future of this blog in general and of Ed Wood Wednesdays, far and away its most popular feature, in particular. Writing about the films, books, and stories of Edward Davis Wood, Jr. is one of the great passions of my life, but it does not pay the bills. On the contrary, it sucks up money and time that could be (presumably) spent on more profitable endeavors. In 2014, while my rent, insurance, and transportation costs all went up, my income actually slipped a little. To quote Arthur Miller: "That's an earthquake." (He meant it metaphorically, as do I.) In order to fix this problem, I have applied for -- and gotten -- a promotion at work. This new role will require more of my time, attention, and energy. Therefore, I will be doing much less writing in the foreseeable future. There is no joy in my heart as I write these words. I'm just telling you how it is, as straight as I know how to tell it.

I am not shutting down Dead 2 Rights or even Ed Wood Wednesdays. Writing is my first love, even if I don't have a single reader other than myself, and just like the song says: "Without love, you're only living an imitation... an imitation of life." I don't intend to live an imitation of life. Here is what I propose for now: Ed Wood Wednesdays will drop back to a once-a-month schedule. Let's make it the last Wednesday of each month, huh? This month's article would appear on June 24. And in between, I'll try to post as much non-research-heavy content as I can, whenever I can.

Stick with me, will ya? Maybe I can turn this thing around yet.

Your pal,

Joe




Addendum to previous article: I wrote that announcement several days ago in a moment of frustration, and I wanted to clarify some points made within it. First off, I don't mean to give the impression that I am in desperate financial straits at all. I'm not. Not even close. In fact, by living extremely frugally and denying myself nearly every luxury, I have managed to save enough money so that I could survive for a year and a half, maybe even two full years, at my current standard of living with no income whatsoever. I pay all my bills on time and have what I'm told is a very decent credit rating. That's the good news. The problem is that, in recent months, my monthly expenses have been slightly outstripping my monthly income, forcing me to dip into my savings just a little. That frightened me. In order to counteract this, I applied to be a salaried, full-time employee at my current place of business, where I have been an hourly employee for the last decade. I won't even be leaving my current department at work, just moving a few cubicles over and doing a slightly-different-but-mostly-the-same job. There is no adventure or challenge to this. It's strictly a financial decision made with an eye toward the future. The upside to this is that, ideally, I can worry a little less about money. The downside is that I will have to curtail some creative pursuits in order to focus more fully on a job to which I have no emotional connection whatsoever. That worries me, too. There's no truly "good" news here, just some half-bad, half-neutral news that I wanted to share with my readers. Thanks. - J.B.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Homework! Homework! Give me a break!

This dude wears a vest just to study! That's fancy!

Memory's a funny thing. There are now long, long stretches of my life that are little more than a blur in my mind. But, come what may, I will in all likelihood never forget the opening line of a 1981 television commercial for an unsuccessful candy bar.

In the oft-replayed ad, a bespectacled, curly-haired young man sits at his desk, slaving over a stack of books, a pencil clutched in his hand. It must be fairly late, because he is working by lamplight, and the cluttered room is otherwise dark and shadowy. In frustration, unable to cope, the fatigued scholar sets down his pencil, takes off his glasses, and addresses the camera in an anguished fashion: "Homework! Homework! Give me a break!" The voice-of-God announcer then suggests that what the lad needs is a Summit candy bar. A few "candy porn" shots later, the young man takes, eats, and is satisfied.

This little-remembered confectionery was a product of the Mars candy bar company during the early years of the Reagan administration. Essentially Twix with peanuts, the ironically-lowly Summit bar lasted only a few years, including a half-assed 1983 makeover, before being yanked from store shelves.

But the iconic Summit TV commercial survives on YouTube, fortunately. That inimitable opening salvo -- "Homework! Homework! Give me a break!" -- became something of a catchphrase in the Blevins household. We'd say it well into the late 1980s, long after the Summit bar itself vanished from the American scene. The color has badly faded from this print, but the famous lament is intact.



In reviewing the 30-second spot, I realized I had forgotten the commercial's delirious second half, in which a young woman, also a student, finds herself utterly overwhelmed by hormone-crazed male suitors, all of whom accost her in the school hallway to ask her to "the game." She, too, begs to be given "a break," at which point the boys produce -- seemingly from thin air -- a barrage of Summit bars, all of which they point directly at her face. A greedy, ravenous look overtakes our heroine.

The moment fairly drips with sexual suggestion. The screenshot below looks like a behind-the-scenes shot from a porno film in which all the dicks had to be CGI'd in during post-production because the leading lady had a "no dicks near my face" clause in her contract.

And she grew up to be Lady Gaga... so that's interesting.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Another heartwarming 'Mark Trail' adventure

Mark seems like he'd be a fun dad, right?

Rather like Batman, nature writer and adventurer Mark Trail has his very own creepy orphan to look after. The motherless waif in Mark's life is named Rusty Wilson, and he's been a part of the venerable Mark Trail comic strip since 1981. Mark officially adopted Rusty over twenty years ago, but the little ingrate still refers to his benefactor by his first name after all these years instead of calling him "Dad." With his off-putting personality and misshapen, rat-like face, Rusty has been a favorite in-joke/whipping boy among Trail-heads for decades. The strip itself often forgets about the little creep for weeks at a time, which is probably for the best. In the episode above, I imagine what the dynamic between Mark and Rusty is like when the cameras have been turned off, so to speak.

Oh, and here's a bonus Family Circus episode featuring that long-running strip's most pitiful character: red-headed middle child Jeffy.

Just eat what you're given, Jeffy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 61.5: '[MISTED] Orgy of the Dead' (1998)

Some old school ASCII art for some old school Internet comedy.

Note: As of this writing, I'm still working on my article about the pornographic loops Ed Wood made for the Swedish Erotica series in the 1970s, some of which just may feature arguably the biggest porn star of all time. Again, I've decided it's better to hold the article back a little while and do the research properly, rather than do a half-assed job and post it now. But never fear, dearest readers! I would never leave you in the lurch! Once again, I have scoured through the vaults and found a dusty old relic for your amusement (hopefully). Truth be told, I probably would have devoted a week of the project to this particular script anyway, since it was a crucial milestone in my own Ed Wood fandom. - J.B.

A dishwasher and his cartoon alter ego.
I've been thinking a lot this week about a piece The Onion ran back in February 2004 called "Day Job Officially Becomes Job." Like virtually all Onion articles, this one was written anonymously in a deadpan, faux-journalistic style. Though formatted as a serious local news item, it's really a short story in disguise -- and a darkly funny, heart-wrenching one at that.

Set in Hillsboro, Oregon (in reality, the state's fifth-largest city and a fairly picturesque place if Google Images is telling me the truth), "Day Job Officially Becomes Job" focuses on a defeated-looking, 29-year-old dishwasher named Mark Seversen who gives up on his dreams of becoming a professional cartoonist one day as his shift at a restaurant comes to an end. After years of cleaning and stacking soup bowls by day and churning out a homemade autobiographical comic book by night, Seversen suddenly realizes that he has become what he always dreaded: a professional, full-time dishwasher. From that point on, he is no longer an artist. "After four years of washing dishes to support my drawing projects," he says, "I've made the transition to washing dishes to support myself."

The article ends with pragmatic commentary from a self-help writer named Gregory Gund, whose works include Learning To Let Go Of The Things That Sustain You. That fake title of a nonexistent book has been haunting me lately, as has a comment made by the fictional dishwasher himself: "While I was at work, I'd think about what I wanted to draw. But once I got home, I just wanted to watch television."

That comes very close to describing my life, too, except I'm a decade older than Mark Seversen is supposed to be. Writing about Ed Wood movies brings me some degree of personal fulfillment, sure, but it doesn't mean a damned thing when bills arrive in the mail.

A working stiff in Glen or Glenda?
During his adult years, Edward Davis Wood, Jr. never really did the whole "day job" thing. At least not for long, he didn't. Once Eddie hit Hollywood in 1947, he didn't wait tables, tend bar, or mop floors. Instead, he appeared in plays and tried to get film and TV projects going. For the briefest of spells in the early 1950s, he was a low-man-on-the-totem-pole flunky at Universal, but he soon ditched that seemingly-golden opportunity to follow his own star-crossed directing career.

And in the early 1970s, he was temporarily able to commit to a regular daily schedule during his prolific period of employment at Bernie Bloom's Pendulum Publishing, where he was expected to crank out short stories and full-length fiction and nonfiction paperbacks at a steady pace. Bernie ran the place like a factory, and he kept his worker bees all but chained to their typewriters in windowless offices which were tellingly called "cells." That doesn't sound like Eddie's style at all. Meanwhile, Wood cronies such as Steve Apostolof were always luring our boy away to make movies. For Eddie, writing for Bernie Bloom was his day job.

You can tell from his scripts and his stories that Ed had no real understanding of "the modern world and its business administration," as he termed it in his Glen or Glenda? script. What little he knew of that world, he disliked. Maybe that's why ski equipment salesman Harvey Shane grouses that "work is the curse of the modern system" in The Ski Bunnies. Or why beleaguered secretary Wendy Cavanaugh complains in The Beach Bunnies that "all I can see from my office are the tops of buildings... when I'm not staring at a typewriter." A nine-to-fiver, Ed wasn't.

Well, folks, I am part of the modern world and its business administration. And very often, that makes it difficult to do things like this blog. Sometimes, I think about following the example of dishwasher Mark Seversen and just giving up on any extracurricular creative pursuits to focus completely on my real job, the one which actually pays my rent. Maybe I'd be a lot happier. Maybe I'd be miserable. Who knows?

Anyway, this week, I thought it would be fun to return to my roots as an Ed Wood fan, something I wrote before the weight of the world crushed me into a fine powder. Seventeen years ago, in the Dark Ages of the Internet, I was a regular on a primitive but fun Usenet newsgroup devoted to the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 called rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. This once-popular, now-nearly-dormant forum was affectionately known to its habitues as RATMM, which I always pronounced as "rat 'em."

One of the favorite pastimes on RATMM was posting "MiSTings." These were text-only approximations of the show in which you'd take a script or story or any risible chunk of text and make your own MST3K episode out of it by adding humorous running commentary from Mike or Joel and the 'bots. If you really wanted to get fancy about it, you could add occasional skits or "host segments," too. Being the budding Ed Wood nut that I was, I decided to use Jake Royal's remarkably-thorough transcript of Orgy of the Dead as the basis of my longest and most-ornate "MiSTing." I wrote other such MST3K fanfics, but this was the one which got the most attention back then.

So now, let's journey back to June 28, 1998. Back then, I was just a twentysomething college student who probably thought he was very, very clever indeed. I make no promises for the quality of what you're about to read. In all likelihood, it has aged like fine milk. Many of the jokes are now painfully out-of-date. Many more were never funny to begin with. But perhaps you can glean some enjoyment from this script anyway and, in so doing, gain some insight into the mind of your humble blogger. In other words: Don't think of this as comedy. Think of this as archaeology.

Thank you. And have mercy on my soul.